Category Archives: Book Reviews

J. D. Salinger needs a good horse-whipping

Five new JD Salinger books on the way

Titles expected between 2015 and 2020

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/03/new-jd-salinger-fiction-documentary

Hi readers.

When J.D. Salinger went stealth in the 1960s I didn’t think he could hold out.  I snickered to myself and said he was in there writing books and one day he’d lose his determination and drop them on me like depth charges.  I figured I could hold out longer than he could.

Eventually I began to think I had him figured wrong maybe.  That he’d either burned all his stuff and wasn’t writing more, or that he was a Class A horses ass and just wasn’t going to let any of it go public until after he died.  Then he died and for a while I was sure that now, now, now, here they’d come!

They didn’t, and when I turned 70 one of the things I had to reconcile myself to was that J.D. Salinger wasn’t gonna have anymore books during my lifetime.  Decided he was indeed a Class A horses ass.

But yesterday Jeanne sent me the link above.  Oh, yeah.  Thanks a lot, J.D. Salinger.  2015.  Hell, I went out to the RV, took some mega vitamins checked my blood pressure, then checked over the cats trying to figure out what we all need to do in order to survive until 2015.

I’m thinking it’s going to be a cliff-hanger, but we’ve got a middling good shot at lasting until the first one.  I’m okay, the cats seem okay.  I’ll gear up the cat-vitamins just to help us along, make sure they eat less hard food and more canned food, and we’ll take a run at it.  Might even squeeze it all the way to the last one in 2020.

But if J.D. Salinger happens to only be pretending to be dead I’d love to say a few choice words to him.

Old Jules

Zen etc, Persig – The Phaedrus Chatauqua – Classical and Romantic Reality

Persig’s decided to do his Chatauqua on Phaedrus.  Begins by explaining how Phaedrus saw the world in a classical reality form, explains the difference between those two ways of approaching reality.

Hydrox:  So what’s the Classical reality way of viewing cat food?  Are we cats viewing the Romantic way, or the Classical way?

Me:  Romantic.  No question about it, no compromise, even.  The Classical’s the underlying form.  The components that make up the food, the nutritional value.  The process that went into canning it.  You cats couldn’t care less about that.  Taste and odor are the immediately apparent form, the Romantic.  They’re all you care about.

Hydrox:   I like to eat the insides out of things I catch.  Leave the head and sometimes tail and legs.  I like the underlying form best.

Me:  Actually not.  If you were opening that mouse and looking at the way the digestive tract works, the circulatory system, the nerves, lungs, then you’d be getting into Classical form.  You aren’t looking at underlying function even though it’s inside.  You’re after taste, odor and texture.  There are no goods, no bads in the Classical form. No feelings.  Those are all Romantic form.

Hydrox Okay.  But you’re saying this Phaedrus guy was only interested in underlying form?  Classical form?  Is that why he was crazy?

Me:  Not really, but we’ll get into that.  Crazy doesn’t seem to confine itself to one form or another.    And the reasons Phaedrus had his insanity are a lot deeper than that.   More in the manner of the way he broke the world down to analyse it than in the form itself.

Niaid:  Off the subject, but wasn’t the kid here in the story killed in a driveby shooting a few years ago?  A long time after this story.

Me:  Yeah, he was.  Before you cats were even born.  Before Persig wrote Lila, too.

Tabby:  So are we supposed to keep that in mind while we’re doing this?  That this kid’s going to end up dead in a driveby shooting?

Me:  Not if you can keep from it, though it’s not easy to keep it separate.  What happened to that kid later on didn’t have anything to do with Phaedrus, and the way you’ll be thinking about him is Romantic.  Feelings.

Old Jules

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Hi Readers. Thanks for coming by.

Perzig’s first book jumped out at me a week-or-so ago out of a box I was packing.  Demanded I go through it yet another time this lifetime.  Which is never a job of work I take lightly.

Decided as I study on it I’d discuss it with the cats when I come to particularly studious parts.  If it seems appropriate I might share some of those discussions with you along the way.  For instance, last night he and his son, along with another couple have progressed to a camp site.  The son’s troubling him a fair amount, but Phaedrus, shadow figure of his past insanity is also peeking into the corners of his mind.

Hydrox:  What does he mean when he says, “Ghosts come back when a person hasn’t been properly buried?  Is he talking about, say, the ghost of all those chickens I keep seeing around here sometimes?”

Me:  Maybe he’s talking about that, partly.  Those chickens aren’t necessarily dead, so far as we know.  And I definitely think that’s a piece of what he’s talking about.  People lost to our lives, but without closure.  But there’s also Mehitabel.  She stayed on permanent mouse patrol all these years.  Never was properly buried.

Hydrox:  Mehitabel?  I’ve just about gotten so I don’t see her anymore.  Thanks goodness.

Niaid:  Wish you hadn’t brought her up.  Gives me the willies.

Me:  The longer we live the more ghosts we tend to accumulate, all those not-properly buried ones who passed through our lives.

Tabby:  Any chance we could bury Shiva?

Me:  You figure she’s gotten around to burying you?

Old Jules

Farnham’s Freehold, by Robert A. Heinlein 1964

Hi readers.  Here’s another one of those old early-days RAH tomes to give you some smiles, some anachronisms to feel smug about, and a couple of truly interesting things to think about.

The first part of the book is all the usual suspects, family with a bomb shelter before the bombs fall, etc.  If you haven’t read a thousand others, might as well get it done  with this one, I reckons.

But then the bombs hit, one of them dead-center.  Spang blows Farnham and his family into sometime a longish while in the future, same spot.  Then the fun starts.

The big powers destroyed themselves and most of the other non-ethnic places full of advanced white people.  So when Farnham and his white family come up for air it isn’t long before they’re discovered by the meek who inherited the earth.  Africans, mainly, in this area.  A sort of do-it-yourself African empire sitting atop the ruins of the US.

Sure, some white people survived.  Most have been adopted as slaves in a manner similar to the way the Ottomans treated captured Europeans during an earlier time.  Bred the good ones for physical and mental traits, castrated the others and put them to work.  Kept a lot of females for breeding stock, too.

So once they’re captured, Farnham and his family are forced to adapt themselves to a lifestyle most white people have spent a lot more generations becoming unaccustomed to than was good for them.  Farnham’s wife lucks into being the paramour of one of the black rulers, and being a 20th Century mom, wants her son with her.  But him being a male, her being part of the harem, he’s got to be castrated first.  Which gives her pause, but only momentarily.

And so on.

Lots of laughs in this book.  A truly fun read.

Old Jules

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein circa 1966

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by.

Just when you think the early work of RAH is bogging itself down in frozen-in-time anachronisms he drops a mickey into your martini.  Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one such.

Suddenly he’s taking a close look at political revolutions, at the institutions of marriage, at the relationships between men and women [and why they become what they become], why revolutions don’t work usually, and how to prevent them from becoming what revolutions invariably become.  He throws in a quickie about how you can always, always come out ahead betting the horses.  And an imaginary penal colony on the moon, several generations later when the prisoners are only a tiny percentage of a population composed mainly of the descendants of prisoners.

A society where males outnumber females 10 to 1, where the earth is on the brink of starvation and depends heavily on the labors of the Luna population for wheat production, crops catapulted to the earth surface to land in the Indian Ocean.  Depleting inevitably the water-ice reservoirs on the moon with no attempt to replace, even pay for the labors of folks who physically will never be able to ‘return’ to earth.

This was a great read in 1966, the first time I read it.  2013 I read it again, and aside from pickypickypicky details, it’s still a great read. 

Sheeze, catapults on the moon hurling rocks down the gravity well turning out the equivalents of H-bomb explosions after the earth governments dig in their heels and bomb moon colonies as an alternative to replacing the water required to grow the wheat.  A computer gone intelligent.  Marriages lasting 150 years through dozens of multiple-husbands and wives, always being replaced when one dies. 

I’d rank it one hell of a lot better than Stranger in a Strange Land.

Old Jules

Alas Babylon, by Pat Frank – sculpting post-1959 culture

Before Alas Babylon hit the bookstores and was made a movie the US population hadn’t yet done any heavy thinking about the implications of Sputnik 1 and hydrogen bomb arsenals capable of being delivered to the US heartland.  Strategic Air Command was centered in Omaha, NE, and B47 bombers filled the skies.  Civil Defense was mostly the local mortuary because they owned the ambulances.  Complacency with having been victors of WWII, affluence, abundance and confidence in the future were the rule of the day.

Then along came Alas Babylon.   The story of a small piece of Florida spared the bombs and fallout from an attack by the USSR and a prolonged nuclear war.   Because it was early in the day the post-nuclear-holocaust genre hadn’t yet decided everyone had to die or turn into mutant barbarians.

The story was subdued enough to be believed.  And Americans believed it.  Beefed up Civil Defense, began the individual preparedness planning that would be required if they were to survive.

The first 20 pages of Alas Babylon describes the days leading to the war, all the usual suspects you’d hear tonight if you watched the evening news, minus the USSR.  A buildup of tensions, a US Navy fighter-bomber pilot mistakenly releases a bomb over a port in Syria destroying an ammunition train.  Secondary explosions and the beginning of mutual destruction for the US and USSR.

The book is a microscope look at the minds of the US citizenry as they existed in 1959, before ICBMs, before the moon launch, before the oceans were filled with attack and missile launching submarines.  Martin Luther King was still in the future, along with the Vietnam War, race riots in US cities, Kennedy assassinations. automobile seat belts, gas mileage and foreign cars.  Women were there to be protected, first into the lifeboats of whatever safety could be constructed during and after a nuclear war.

Alas Babylon is a good read, a great study in sociology and a particular slice of history frozen in time. 

Old Jules

 

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The Bible and modern Israel – A study in human reality

Hi readers. 

Although I’m not of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim religious tribe [and sub-tribes] I do love studying the Bible.  There’s a lot of wisdom to be found there, a lot of history, and it’s jam-packed with all sorts of things we humans and products of western civilization probably ought to recognize about ourselves.  At least if we ever aspire to cease being smart two-legged omnivores and become human beings.

There mightn’t be any better case study past/present of humanity than modern secular Israel and the gene-pool of those folks as they behaved in ancient times.  Fact is, OT Hebrews struggled along as bronze-age barbarians killing, robbing, enslaving and generally hating their neighbors for a debatably long time.  Never got along with anyone who wasn’t among their tribes.  And eventually paid the price by revolting against the Romans once too often.

Those miles of crosses along the Appian way outside Rome that Christians are fond of taking ownership of were actually predominantly Jews the Romans managed to catch.  And those they couldn’t catch were scattered from hell-to-breakfast across Europe and the Middle East for the next 2000 years.  The ‘diaspora’.

You’d think a self-defined tribe would learn something from all that.  But those ancient Hebrews weren’t all that different from the rest of us.  So, when the major European powers and the US developed a sentimental kinship for the descendants of the ancient Hebrews and decided to let them return to the Middle East to a formal Israeli nation, the tribe had to fight their genetic cousins of different religious persuasions to take it away from them.

It all might have worked.  accommodations and compromises could almost certainly have been made.  The Muslims had a long history of toleration for their Jewish cousins.  Far more tolerant than Europeans.  As far as I’ve ever been able to discover there was never a single Muslim pogrom, attempt to exterminate Jews on any scale comparable to what always existed in Europe.

Fighting at the beginning was inevitable, but once it was all established a person would assume the modern secular state of Israel would begin battening down the hatches, finding any way it could to keep the neighbors happy, make them happy to have those Jews back in the neighborhood.

But Jews being human beings and a lot of them with a long European cultural history as baggage, spent the next 65 years doing exactly what their ancestors in ancient times had done.  Even though they were badly outnumbered.  They knew they had the upper hand, knew they had friends of super-power status to fend off any new diaspora.

So they flew the ‘Don’t Give An Inch’ flag and went through a series of wars wars wars, same as the rest of us of European stock.  Which we might well have partly learned by venerating their holy book.

The Bible’s been well-studied for 2000 years now, both by Christians and by Jews.  But there’s every reason to believe we haven’t learned a damned thing from it.

Old Jules

From bronze-age barbarian to nuclear warhead rocket-rattler.  Same as the rest of us.

Have Spacesuit Will Travel – Robert A. Heinlein

Came across this book in a thrift store in Kerrville recently and couldn’t resist it because they were having a dime-a-book sale.  As nearly as I can recall it was maybe the 3rd, or 4th science fiction book I read when I discovered the genre in the Portales Junior High School Library around 1958 or ’59. 

I’d qualify it as ‘middling’, probably nowadays young adult, Horatio Algeresque, and a nice evening read if a man has three cats interrupting to punctuate things.  Those times were full of first in orbit Sputink Explorer Cape Canavaral fizzles and it’s clear Heinlein, along with almost everyone else in the US, suddenly realized what an ignorant, poorly educated society we were becoming already.  Spends a considerable while early in the book with a father discussing the shortcomings of the education the young main character was getting for himself and how he, the kid, was going to have to take responsibility for changing that.  Assuming the kid wants it changed for the eventual outcome of his goal to go to the moon.

But there’s also a lot of other social commentary about responsibility, goals, paternalism, and finding a place outside the ‘normal’ shortcomings and flaws of humankind.  Surprising lot of insight as to where science and engineering were going to go, though it naturally overlooked the prospect of the field being increasingly dominated by Asians.  Even though RAH saw the social and educational conditions in the US that led in that direction, in those days nobody’d noticed whatever it was in Asia that would bring it to fruition.

All in all I doubt it would appeal much to the readership of today.  But most would never find it anyway.

Old Jules

Ever wondered who the Vietcong were?

Eddie Adams

Eddie Adams photo 1968

Last night I came across a thrift store book I’d never gotten around to reading.  One of those ‘last resort’ books set aside again and again.  A backup for a time when I would be desperate for anything besides the labels on sardine cans.

But as I thumbed through it I was abruptly captured.   When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace, by Le Ly Hayslip.

Here’s a woman born in 1949 in a Vietcong controlled village near Danang where her family’s spent the previous generations fighting, first the French, then the Japanese, then the French again.  As a small child she watches relatives and neighbors in her village raped and slaughtered by French mercenaries.  Then:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Ly_Hayslip

“Hayslip was born in Ky La, now Xa Hao Qui, a small town in central Vietnam just south of Da Nang. She was the sixth and youngest child born to farmers. American helicopters landed in her village when she was 12 years old. At the age of 14, she endured torture in a South Vietnamese government prison for “revolutionary sympathies”. After being released, she had fallen under suspicion of being a government spy, and was sentenced to death but instead raped by two Viet Cong soldiers.[2]

“She fled to Saigon, where she and her mother worked as housekeepers for a wealthy Vietnamese family, but this position ended after Hayslip’s affair with her employer and subsequent pregnancy. Hayslip and her mother fled to Da Nang. During this time, Hayslip supported both her mother and an infant son, Hung (whom she would later rename Jimmy), while unmarried and working in the black market, as an occasional drug courier and, once, as a prostitute.

“She worked for a short period of time as a nurse assistant in a Da Nang hospital and began dating Americans. She had several disastrous, heartbreaking affairs before meeting and marrying an American civilian contractor named Ed Munro in 1969. Although he was more than twice her age, she had another son with him, Thomas. The following year Hayslip moved to San Diego, California, to join him, and briefly supported her family as a homemaker. In 1973, he died of emphysema, leaving Le Ly a widow at age 24.

“In 1974 she married Dennis Hayslip. Her second marriage, however, was not a happy one. Dennis was a heavy drinker, clinically depressed and full of rage. Her third and youngest son, Alan, was fathered by Dennis and born on her 26th birthday. The couple filed for divorce in 1982 after Dennis committed domestic violence. Shortly thereafter, he was found dead in a parked van outside a school building. He had established a trust fund, however, that left his wife with some money, and he had insurance that paid off the mortgage of the house.”

So here’s a woman, a real, no-shit Vietcong, tortured by the South Vietnamese, suspected of being a traitor by the Vietcong and sentenced to death, raped and escaped.  Married a US civilian and became a US citizen.

Probably a person couldn’t be more caught-in-between from birth than she was.  Surrounded by hundreds, thousands of other peasants caught in-between.  Trying to dodge the steamrollers of forces they didn’t understand, South Vietnamese and US rifles pointed at them daytimes, Vietcong rifles pointed at them nights.

Yep, this lady is one of the people the guys with Vietnam Veteran caps walking around mining for praise and ‘Thank you,” spent their tours in Vietnam trying to kill.

Damned book ought to be required reading for anyone buying a SUPPORT OUR TROOPS sticker.  Because at a foundation level, SUPPORT OUR TROOPS isn’t about the troops.  It’s about people who are being defined as ‘the enemy’ those troops are going to do everything in their power to ruin the lives of.

People in US government who couldn’t locate the place on the map defining one side as ‘the enemy’ and the other side as ‘friends’.

Old Jules

Grandkid:  Granpaw, what did you do in the Vietnam War?

Old Vet:  I helped Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon kill a lot of people who didn’t need killing, helped destroy a country that didn’t need destroying, helped get a lot of GIs killed and maimed in the process.  And I’m damned proud I did.

Grandkid:  Oh wow!  Thank you Grandpaw!

Sure I’ll Explain Ayn Rand for You!

But what’s in it for me?

A joke that made the rounds among sophomores of the mid-1960s.  Came to mind after I posted the book review on The Virtue of Selfishness.

Old Jules